Another Night with the Frogs

2010. For the first time in over 14 years, I was jobless. The first month of unemployment, I was okay only a little worried. I had a good resumé and thought I was highly employable. As the days, then months, went by I became more worried. Relationships, especially my marriage, were strained. Depression set in and even the desire to go out and look for a job went away. By the end of year, I watched the days fade away as I sat doing nothing. I kept telling myself that tomorrow would be a better day. I would be more proactive and do what needed to be done.

When tomorrow came, I did as the day before and the days before that. Nothing. But oh, there was always another tomorrow, another chance to do better.

Then Pharoah summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray to the Lord your God to remove the frogs from me and my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.

Moses answered Pharoah, “Please designate for me the time when I am to pray for you and your servants and your people, to get rid of the frogs from you and your houses. They will be left only in the Nile.

“Tomorrow,” he said. Then Moses replied, “It will be as you said, so that you may know that there is none like the Lord, our God.”

Exodus 8:4-6

I listened to this passage from Exodus on The Bible in a Year Podcast with Father Mike Schmitz. After the reading, Fr. Mike pointed out one key word: tomorrow. Pharoah was suffering. The frogs were everywhere. When Moses asked Pharoah when he wanted the frogs gone, Pharoah said tomorrow. Why not immediately? Why suffer another day with the frogs? Why spend another night with frogs crawling around in your bed? And like Pharoah, why do we continue with our suffering another day if we could remove it today?

January 2022. I wanted to begin the year just as I left off in 2021. Study hard, finish the gym I am building, and continue the home improvements. Instead, I got Covid. For about two weeks, I laid around doing nothing. Just sitting outside in the sun or taking a walk to the mailbox wore me out. There is so much I needed to get done, but I had no ability to do it. As much as I hated to say it, I was praying for a better tomorrow. Oh Lord, not this again!

As the illness faded and clarity was coming back to my mind, a glimmer of hope began to surface. I was reminded of the importance of time. Never again did I want to tell myself I could do something tomorrow if it was possible to do it today. What matters is today; tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Have you ever been there? When it comes to fitness, nutrition, alcohol, or starting a new venture? Did you ever choose to continue suffering today in the hopes of alleviating it tomorrow? Why spend another night with the frogs when you could make it all go away today?

On Suffering

How do I suffer?

  • In the mornings from a poor night’s sleep.
  • Mobility issues in my hips and shoulders. Back and neck pain.
  • Wanting things that I do not or cannot have.

Nearly all my suffering is either physical or mental. Occasionally, I suffer emotionally. Emotional suffering I usually include with mental and falls into the “I want but cannot have” category.

I must live with my suffering. It is generally accepted as a natural part of my life. It is what it is. But should that be the case?

A poor night’s sleep.

There are those who are adamant that this is a condition associated with getting older. Yet, I have seen older adults that do not struggle with this. Why is it only some that have this problem? Why do I have this problem? I can’t imagine this being a genetic flaw. And if is not genetic, then is it self-induced?

Reasons why my poor sleep performance is my fault:

  • Slept too long the morning before.
  • Not enough activity during the day.
  • Too much stimulation (or stimulants) in the evening.
  • Too much food/water before bed.
  • Alcohol. Click here for a wonderful Art of Manliness podcast on whether to drink or not.

If I check any of the boxes above, then I am ultimately to blame. If I don’t do anything to change these behaviors, then I will suffer.

Mobility and pain.

When it comes to mobility and pain issues, I must look to the fix. As we age, these problems will only get worse if they are not addressed. Mobility issues can be corrected, but it takes work, consistency, and patience. Pain, in my case, can be remedied through strength training. If not, the only other solution is surgery. With these two options, I will take strength training any day.

Unfulfilled wants and desires.

“What is the proper limits to one’s wealth,” Seneca asked. His twofold answer is to have what is essential and then to have what is enough. Beginning with the essential, do I and my family have it? Well, that depends on what is essential. At one time, essential meant food, shelter, and clothes on the back. Today, some would consider medicine, internet, television, phone, a car for each family member of driving age, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and a whole host of “I can’t live without it” consumer products.

My family has food, shelter, and clothes. Some of the extras are important. Medicine to treat illness, a phone to communicate, and reliable transportation will certainly make life easier. But do I need the latest phone to play the latest game, the newest car that passes the “socially acceptable” test, or the game-changing drug that will melt all the bodyfat away? I don’t need any of these, I only need what is enough. Constantly chasing after the newest and what everybody else has will leave me always wanting no matter how much I already have.

Suffering is necessary until you realize it is unnecessary.

Eckhart Tolle

I don’t have to suffer. It is not a requirement for existence on this planet. I can analyze, I can correct, and I can desire less. I might not be able to remove all my pain and hardship, but I can take the steps to eliminate most of it from my life. Rather than being overwhelmed by a multitude of suffering coming from a multitude of different areas, I can target them individually until the majority are removed. Suffering is only necessary if I allow it to be.

Make Use of Suffering

Suffering is inevitable. That may be something we might not want to hear, but it is true.

Our bodies will degenerate as we age. We can do our best to minimize the effects through nutrition, daily physical activity, and stress management. But despite our best efforts, we will succumb to age. And we can try our best to prevent accidents, but they will still happen. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, rest assured, someday you will suffer physically.

We can guard our souls, but they too will suffer. We will mourn others who suffer. We will mourn loved ones as they pass. Our hearts will long for that which it cannot have. Our souls will suffer.

And then there is the mind. Here the suffering may not be as acute. The body can numb some of its ailments. The soul can as well through the passage of time. Bur our minds are always working. Wanting for the body and soul to be at peace, it wants for the things they cannot have. It longs for something higher, for something better in the future. Although self-induced, the mind will also suffer.

You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering.

Henri Frederic Amiel

To make use of the suffering is the art of living. Indeed, to suffer gracefully is truly an art! And some do this better than others. They take their internal battles stoically. Suffering is a test of the will. And where some, at the slightest hindrance, will go about in sack cloth and ashes proclaiming, “Woe is me,” others will hold their pains close and look for ways to overcome it. They go forth to do battle, and through grit and resolve return as conquerors. The suffering is looked upon as an opportunity, and they will find the greatest use for it.


Feature photo by mwangi gatheca on Unsplash

In the Very Here and Now

Something is off with me today. I don’t know what it is. I’m more critical than usual. Nothing has happened to make me angry, but I am afraid the smallest thing could set me off.

I am struggling to enjoy the present moment. I am thinking about the past. I am getting frustrated about a future that has not even happened. My mind is a whirlwind struggling to stay grounded in the now. I don’t like who I am right now, this person who cannot discipline his mind.

I am reminded of this Buddhist saying: Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future…look deeply at life as it is, in the very here and now.

It is so easy for me to give advice to others suffering from depression. I can look at their pain and what they have lost objectively, thinking that it does not affect me. But I have been there before, I am partly there now, and I will certainly be there again in the future. It is a part of being human. We suffer because we do not have what we desire.

How often did I pursue the past? Instead of learning the lesson, I went back and revisited it over and over. Can I change it? Can I bring back the dead, undo a wrong, or make a decision that would bring less suffering to the present? I cannot, so why do I stay in this place in time that I have no business dwelling in? Why do I lock myself into this misery that is no more?

Do I know what this future will bring? Do I know how I will die? Will it be on own terms? I am reminded of a friend who thinks she will pass in the same way as other members of her family. They all died at an early age, and it gives her much anxiety. As an outsider unaffected by this family condition, I am not completely empathetic to her worries. Why worry about something outside of our control? Oh, the fool that I am! Maybe I don’t consider how I will die in the same way she does, but I allow myself to get upset about something that may or may not happen later in the day. I grow anxious about the problems of tomorrow and what may come around the corner next year. Am I not the same as she?

I am reading Eckhart Tolle’s Oneness with All Life. I read a chapter of this book at night before bed. It is a beautiful book that is really speaking to me. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 7’s Becoming Present:

We can learn not to keep situations or events alive in our minds, but to return our attention continuously to the pristine, timeless present moment rather than be caught up in mental movie-making. Our very Presence then becomes our identity, rather than our thoughts and emotions.

Only Presence can free you of the ego, and you can only be present Now, not yesterday or tomorrow. Only Presence can undo the past in you and thus transform your state of consciousness.

It is not an easy thing to be present. Yet all is not lost, we can learn to be present. That is a beautiful thing because it gives me hope that I can stop pursuing the past or lose myself in the future. It gives me the opportunity to do what needs to be done now. Being locked into the present, I can give my full attention to being a good husband and a father. I can give my full attention to being a good man, a good human.

There are those I care about whose suffering is only in their mind. Yet their suffering is so great that it is affecting their bodies. Maybe it is you or maybe someone you know. We can remember our past. We can remember and love the ones we have lost. We can acknowledge our mistakes with the hopes of not repeating them. But what has happened has happened. We cannot go back. We cannot change it. The only thing we can do is go forward. And yes, we go forward into an unknown future. We do not know what will happen. There will be uncertainty, and there will be hardships. But there will also be joy, and there will be love. Whatever happens will happen, but we cannot lose ourselves in it before it happens. We must live today. We owe it to our friends and family, to our parents, our spouses, and our children. We owe it to ourselves.

Take a breath. Be aware of the breath. It is the only thing that matters in the very here and now. That breath. The breath you took before it is no more. The breath you take next doesn’t matter if you don’t take the breath you have now. One breath through your nose into your belly extending upwards to your chest. Don’t be afraid, breathe it all in. Pause at the top, savor the moment. And then, let it all out. This is freedom, and now you are free to take the next one, to move forward.


Feature photo by RKTKN on Unsplash

Suffer-ability

I love the analogy of running a race as it compares to life. In both, you start out on a journey with the goal of winning, or in some cases –just finishing. I have never been the first to cross the finish line of a running race, but I have had a few personal victories along the way. Those victories didn’t happen by chance. I had to work for them, overcoming obstacles both internal and external.

In a conventional race, you really only have to deal with your own preparedness, the weather conditions, and the difficulty of the course layout. These were the only races I was running until last year, when I experienced my first obstacle course race. Not only did I have to deal with the all the factors involved in a conventional race, I had to deal with the obstacles, the water crossings, and the mud. A whole new animal and an even better metaphor for this race we call life.

I’m not the strongest. I’m not the fastest. But I’m really good at suffering. –Amelia Boone (one of the greatest obstacle course racers to ever step on the course)

When we think of practice, we think of doing an act over and over until we get better at it. Yoga is considered a practice. In order to do the poses, you have to practice. Meditation, reading, sports –all practices. If you want to improve, you must practice. Have you ever considered suffering as a practice? Suffering in a controlled environment, like an obstacle course race, gives you an opportunity to expose yourself to a bit of suffering. In the beginning, it is definitely not easy. But the more you do it, the better you become –the greater your ability to suffer in the future. To get past the obstacles in a race requires you to problem solve. It requires trial and error. And if you keep going and don’t quit, you just might be able to finish the race.

These artificial impediments along your journey are really no different than the ones you face in real life. The ramifications in life might be greater, but you have to solve them the same way. We can’t control everything that slows us down. Some of these obstacles are self-induced, others come upon us by chance. All we can do is navigate them to the best of our abilities. If we can continue doing this and not despair nor quit, we can be victorious in this game of life.

I hated every minute of training, but I said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion. –Muhammad Ali

Those who aim at great deeds must also suffer greatly. -Plutarch

This is a continuation from Thursday’s post on not giving up. The conditions will not always be perfect. We might not ever be 100% healthy. But the race goes on. We have to keep going. We have to tackle each obstacle that gets in the way.